RALEIGH — The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List hosted Vice President Mike Pence at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh on Sept. 3, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, five U.S. congressmen and other major Republican candidates for North Carolina offices. The SBA List, which fights to get pro-life candidates elected, is led by Marjorie Dannenfelser, a Greenville, North Carolina, native and Duke graduate.
In his remarks to those gathered, Pence began by praising Dannenfelser, saying, “I can honestly say I was for Marjorie Dannenfelser before it was cool. We knew each other back in the days that I was in the Congress, and I saw her strong leadership for life then. But to see the way that the Susan B. Anthony List has grown and to see the impact that it’s had in electing and reelecting principled men and women who stand for the sanctity of life across the country, I just want to thank you, and I want to thank everyone involved. The Susan B. Anthony List is the most effective advocate for the right to life in the United States of America.”
Dannenfelser spoke with NSJ before the event and gave a sense of where she believes the pro-life movement is at and what SBA List is doing during the 2020 election cycle to advance its goals.
After college at Duke, Dannenfelser went to Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Heritage Foundation and then chaired the Pro-Life Caucus on Capitol Hill. Dannenfelser tried to build consensus on pro-life bills, but she quickly became “convinced that we weren’t going to make it anywhere in the pro-life movement if we didn’t have a really strong political arm.”
She said in the early 1990s, “from my home, with a bunch of women,” they started the Susan B. Anthony List to be that entity that would fund pro-life, mostly female candidates. Dannenfelser said the pro-choice PAC, EMILY’s List, which is often mentioned with SBA List as opposing forces on the abortion issue, “got under their skin” by claiming to speak for women on the topic. This irritation was partially responsible for inspiring them to create the SBA List.
“So we basically mimicked their model and did that whole bundling operation for candidates, raising money for candidates and doing independent expenditures,” Dannenfelser told NSJ. “We’ve grown a ton, going from about a $5,000 budget to a $52 million election-year budget.”
She said the whole point is electing pro-life politicians who will pass laws and reform the courts. In North Carolina, Dannenfelser was clear that Tillis and Forest were top priorities.
“Tillis is also on the Judiciary Committee, so he’s a key part of the whole reformation of the judiciary,” she said. “This administration has, more than any other, filled all the empty slots for federal judges.
“But also, Dan Forest is a major focus because we believe we are getting very close to the crumbling of the legal prohibition on passing pro-life laws. And when that starts to happen, when Roe starts to crumble, we need governors because they are the first stop.”
A particularly sore point for the pro-life movement in North Carolina is the 2018 veto by Gov. Roy Cooper of a pro-life bill that would have required health care workers to save the lives of babies who survive abortions.
“In this state, you certainly wouldn’t have a Dan Forest doing what this governor did in vetoing the Born Alive bill,” Dannenfelser said.
“So that’s the whole picture: the presidency and the Senate paving the way for good judges, that can then start to overturn Roe and allow governors to pass laws that protect children and women.”
The SBA List is not simply endorsing the president as the better among the two candidates. They see Trump’s administration as the movement’s biggest champion ever.
“This is the most pro-life administration in history — hands-down, without question,” Dannenfelser said. “I don’t mean what they have in their hearts — I can’t compare what’s been in other presidents’ hearts over time — but I can say operationally, what they did, what their actions have been, have been thoroughgoing.”
In addition to filling court positions, much of the success the group cites has been in choosing people for key administrative positions that will focus on changing regulations that may have gone unnoticed. She listed stopping federal funding for fetal tissue research as one victory coming from this focus.
In the states, Dannenfelser said, “It’s a springtime for pro-life laws across the country right now,” and this will create an environment where Roe v. Wade can be challenged and re-evaluated. She said these bills (like heartbeat bills, born-alive bills and pain-capable bills) “go to the heart” of Roe v. Wade.
“If the Supreme Court upheld any of those, it’s the undoing, the unraveling of Roe,” she said.
When this happens, she says governors, like potentially Forest in North Carolina, can then sign pro-life bills into law and they will be upheld.
The “Life Wins” tour coincides with the release of Dannenfelser’s book, “Life is Winning.”
“The main point of the book is really to explain what’s happening in this moment — why life is such a strong muscle in the middle of campaigns now when it wasn’t before.”
She said it used to be a more ignored, or even feared, part of the GOP platform, but now it’s “totally embraced.” Now, she says, it’s the Democrats who fear bringing it up. At the recent Democratic convention, Dannenfelser says, “They didn’t even say the word.”
“The pro-life position is gaining in strength and in polling, and there are fewer abortions — there’s a decline. So there’s something happening there,” she said. “The book just explains how that all happened — the move from being pro-life being a problem to it being a really strong, vital center of politics in a way that benefits pro-life candidates.”
Dannenfelser also said her organization has been deeply involved in working with the White House to ensure their list of potential judges includes ones that the pro-life movement trusts. This process, she said, has been a success, as Trump has cooperated with appointing judges from this list.
“The president followed through; he took people from that list and those are the people who made it to the Supreme Court. He takes it seriously,” Dannenfelser said. “Who’s on that list matters a ton, and it may change, but who gets on it is very vital. It’s a core concern of ours, and we speak with the administration continually about that.”
In addition to North Carolina, the SBA List’s “Life Wins” tour is visiting seven other battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. These are also the eight states the organization is targeting for get-out-the-vote efforts and ad spending.